WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, successfully fought to include economic relief for fishermen in the COVID-19 package that passed the Senate.
Ranking Member Cantwell said, "The thousands of fishermen in the Pacific Northwest, and across the nation, will now have access to grants and other forms of financial relief from NOAA. We have already seen layoffs and fishing season closures, and it’s crucial that we support fishermen and ensure they have access to emergency grants and other assistance as they face the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic."
In a floor speech before the vote, Ranking Member Cantwell urged her colleagues to pass a COVID-19 relief package, which would include a provision authored by Senator Cantwell to support Tribes, shellfish farmers, and commercial and charter fishermen in Washington state and around the country. This provision would direct the Secretary of Commerce to distribute $300 million in financial assistance in the form of direct payments such as grants, as well as other forms of investments in the fishing industry and shellfish farms. Ranking Member Cantwell worked with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) to secure this relief.
There have already been vivid reports of the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 on the fishing industry. Fishermen are experiencing significant economic losses due to the novel coronavirus. In March, there were reports of layoffs in the shellfish industry. Tribal fishermen have reported serious economic losses in the geoduck, Dungeness crab, and halibut fisheries. Additionally, charter fishermen have already reported fewer bookings for upcoming fishing trips. While some fishing businesses may qualify for small business assistance or unemployment assistance, many fishermen do not. This new financial assistance will help all fishermen, including fishermen who may not qualify for other forms of aid because many fishermen are self-employed.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Cantwell has been a leading advocate of fishing communities and sustainable fisheries management. Senator Cantwell helped secure funding for Washington communities with fisheries disasters and advocated for changes to the process to ensure more Washington state fishermen will be covered in the future. Cantwell has also led the fight to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world.